“mundane objects: the therapist’s office,” a poem for Haunted Passages by E.A. Midnight

mundane objects: the therapist’s office

This room is too big for its own good. Strangely oblong and withering, the way this whole building is. About a year after the flood, the county hospital began the process of relocating its offices from this building to the new campus a couple miles away. The new campus is sprawling, with plenty of room for all the add-ons of medical treatment a person might need. It is also cleaner, more comfortable, and more inviting. As if to say, hey it’s safe here, all will be okay.

But for now, the outpatient and inpatient psychological services remain in this skeleton building. This building, which has likely not been updated since the 1960s, with the drab, textured wallpaper clinging for life to the underlying spackled walls. The halls leading to the outpatient wing are empty, save for the ghosts. The rooms darkened, doors locked. No one lives here anymore. No one needs this space. At the check-in desk, there is always the same woman with her glistening makeup smiling among a mane of dark curls. The sheet with other names hastily written on it beckons. Sign and sit. Get comfortable in the floor-to-ceiling glass windowed interior room meant for waiting patients. Magazines from a year or two ago litter the small table to the left, and underneath them, there is an abandoned book with a white cat on the cover, a treasure tucked from another time. And then there is nothing to do but wait.

Traversing the space from the glass waiting area to the room, that is both the therapist’s office and the space where therapy will be performed, a small yelp echoes from down the hall. The inpatient wing lurks just around a bend in the walls. Push the voice from the mind and enter.

This room is just too big for its own good, so it is hard to imagine what this room was before it was the therapist’s space. The first thing that puddles into view is the faucet looming over a wide sink with ample outlets lurking in the corner. Why. On the far backside of the room, there is a second door behind a massive wood desk. This is not the main door one enters through, and it is unclear what lies beyond its frame. Perhaps it is a closet. Perhaps a bathroom. Perhaps an exit.

The wall across from the main door is half window on the top and half wall on the bottom. There is no windowsill, so the plants are all in large containers on the floor. The light seeps in and dribbles down to them. A few reach browned limbs skyward. A few muddle about on the floor. The window glass is aquarium level thick and fused shut. No way to open them. No way to get fresh air. No way to get out. There is no real view to speak of. From this seat, the scene outside the window is of a dilapidating wall. The cement grout aging away from its subway-style counter parts. When it snows, the heavy white flakes flutter against the auburn red of the brick. The colors remind me of paintings of quaint bridges in some new england town. Then of course, there is some amber piping, caked in seafoam chalk rust, running the distance of wall that can be seen from this vantage space. Directly across from this room’s windows are other windows, always with the shades drawn down. Always darkened. The building in decay.

To his credit, the therapist has made good use of the space of this room. The large desk breaks the room in half, the business side and the talking side, where the work of therapy is done. On the desk, there are large, disorganized looking piles of papers, stacks of books, and lumps of note sheets. An old computer hums in the background, the screen facing away from the therapy area. An office phone sits behind the computer, the only reason one would even know it is there is because occasionally it will beep or ring. On the talking side of the room, there are five chairs stationed in a kind of circle. Each chair is different, and it is impossible not to think that which chair one chooses probably says something about them. How the position one faces in the room dictates how they interact with it, with the therapy. The chair nearest to the main door is by far the most desirable. it is closest to the exit, but it also has the best view. Always choose a place where the door is in one’s line of sight. And the window. The best vantage spot.

The walls of this room are all painted a dim gray-blue. The color of a brooding ocean. This is somewhat comical considering what the space is used for. One is left to wonder if this was the color chosen by the therapist or if it was painted that way prior to his arrival. On the wall behind the most ideal seat, hangs a large tapestry. It is purple with ochre and wood-brown speckled in. It isn’t quite a tie-dye pattern, but it also isn’t not. There are two nightstand-esque tables in the chair’s circle. One is next to the chair the therapist always chooses, and on it sits a water bottle, a small lamp, a box of tissues, a few pens littered about, and a small angular clock that faces away from the patient. On the other, there is a worn green scarf-like cloth covering the surface of the table, another box of tissues, a small collection of rocks, and a shell. The haphazard way these items are displayed makes it unclear if there is any intention behind the placement of the objects. Or if they just seemed like a good idea at the time. The flooring is cheap and forgettable tile, the standard sort of thing one would expect to see in a hospital. Charcoal maybe. Or cream. Or. In the area where all the sitting chairs are, there is a predominately red oriental-style rug spanning the majority of the floor. It is time weathered and doubtful that it is cleaned with any type of frequency. If there are pictures on the wall, they are as unmemorable as the floor tile. Likely meant to be that way, so that all energy in this room is focused. Doctor and patient. The room, a non-descript backdrop lulling the participants into something like safety.

But at the end of the day, it comes down to this. This room is too big for its own good. It leaves something to be probed or desired. Something not as complex as salvation, but not as simple as surviving. Just like us all. The building is being phased out. And occasionally echoes drift in from other hallways or sections. Soon the whole place will be closed down, cordoned off, condemned. The therapist glows about the new building being constructed for all the services still operating out of this building. A facility near the new hospital campus. He speaks in an elated tone. Tune him down. Listen closer. There are no siren screams here. There are no real sounds at all. Except the hum of a computer, the low rumble of the heating system, and those ghost voices. The session ends. And then confirm for next week. Walking down the tan halls where some of the ceiling fluorescents are flickering, one can’t help but wonder

why this too isn’t worth being saved.

E.A. Midnight specializes in multi-modal cross-genre hybridities. As a person living with mental difference, she is a vocal advocate for challenging the boxes creative artists are put in. She received the 2017 PEN North American/Goddard Scholarship Award, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She is currently serving as the Assistant Editor for the literary project, The Champagne Room. Her manuscript, landscape of the interior, was longlisted for the Dzanc Books 2021 Nonfiction Prize. A full list of her published work can be found on her website, eamidnight.com. E.A. Midnight resides in the Colorado wilds.

Image: thecut.com

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